Sept. 1, 2005
By Cory Schneider
What a tough act to follow. After the United States captured its first ever-gold medal in World Junior play the year before, it was the 2005 US team's job to defend it. Add the fact that it was to be hosted on U.S. soil as well as televised on primetime television by ESPN (due to the NHL lockout), one could say that this team was under intense pressure. Despite all of this, I had the privilege of being named to this team, which was perhaps the most exciting moment of my hockey career. These are the premier players at one's age group from all over the world, and to even be mentioned in the same breath as some of them is truly an honor. With many returnees from the previous year's championship team, we were primed to make a strong run at the gold medal.
We met as a team in Grand Forks, N.D., where the tournament was being held. Even though we were within our own country, the near negative temperatures and barren landscape made us feel as if we were in another country, and it was a far cry from Boston life. The entire community was very excited to host the tournament, and our team was treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. Not to mention, the tournament was being held in one of the most spectacular facilities in the world, the University of North Dakota's Ralph Engelstead Arena. After a week of practice, we opened up with a scrimmage against the feisty Germans. Trailing at one point, we came back to defeat them, which sent a message to our team that no one here was a pushover, and every game would be a battle.
Our first game came on Christmas night against the high-powered Russians, and was televised on ESPN. Although it was strange not being home on Christmas, there are few other places I would have rather been that night, as the air and the crowd were simply electric. A seesaw battle saw nine goals scored in the first 30 minutes of the game, resulting in a 5-4 lead for us. After that, the defense and goaltending took over, and that remained the final score. It was one of the most exhilarating games I have been apart of and will forever remain burned in my memory. We continued our scoring pace with a 6-4 win against the Swiss, who put up a tough fight in another back and forth game. I had been the back up goalie for both contests, and the coach decided to give me a shot in goal against Belarus. The start didn't go as well as I had hoped, and we lost 5-3, but I learned several valuable lessons about preparation and what it takes to perform at that level. Despite this setback and the following 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic, we were still in contention for a medal, though the road to the gold would be much tougher.
Our first medal-round game came against the Swedes. We were not to be denied a chance at a medal as we rolled over them 8-2. This set up a rematch with the Russians for a chance at a gold medal. However, our extra game played and their extra day off proved to be critical as they wore us down in a game much closer than the 7-2 loss indicates. With no hope of gold, we turned our eyes toward the bronze-medal game, focused on not leaving empty-handed. In a rematch with the Czechs for the bronze, we played much better than our first bout against them. It was a game in which we could have and probably should have won, but the luck wasn't with us as we ran out of gas in a hard-fought 3-2 overtime loss.
Although the loss stung, we knew we had given it our all. We performed admirably on our own turf and came away knowing that several bounces in either direction could have resulted in a medal. The friendships and bonds formed during that three-week span will last a lifetime as well as the memories that were born. Personally, it was the most exciting and impressive event I have ever been apart of. Although I didn't play as much as I had hoped, I learned many valuable lessons and hope to return to the team this year more focused and determined than ever to do what we were unable to do in 2005.